3 July 2012

Bill Cunningham New York

I caught up with the wonderful documentary Bill Cunningham New York on DVD. A fascinating look into the life of iconic fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, it follows the 80 year old as he takes pictures for the New York Times.

Bill's a true original, a maverick who couldn't care less about money. He still shoots on 35mm film, lives alone, and his tiny apartment overflows with cabinets (he stores the negatives of every photo he's ever taken). He's also considered a mystery man by co-workers and friends. 

He rides up and down Manhattan on an old bicycle and wears the same jacket every day. Despite his high profile, Bill displays no interest in fame; he gives equal attention and care to whoever captures his lens. He continues to snap away at night, capturing events for society pages. Agala dinners he refuses offers for food or drinks. 

It's easy to be cynical and dismiss the whole exercise as shallow and irrelevant. But the veteran photographer passionately believes that fashion is a valid form of creative expression, much like music and art. Bill says we can enrich out lives by adding colour, individuality and flair to our clothing choices. After observing the dull corporate gear worn by the crowds pouring into the city each morning, I tend to agree.


Behind the infectious joy, it's fascinating to observe how Bill structures his life to avoid meaningful human contact and intimacy. The obsessive and relentless nature of his work reveals a lonely figure. Director Richard Press does well to gain Bill's trust, and the result is a moment that will stay with you long after the colourful outfits and personalities have faded to black. 

This lovingly made documentary is highly recommended. Check out Zeitgeist Films site for more about Bill Cunningham New York.

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